Rock & Roll Globe shares a one-on-one conversation with one of the true masters of British Blues
Suffice it to say that there are very few bands that can claim a legacy as lengthy of that possessed by Savoy Brown.
Formed in 1965 by its erstwhile leader Kim Simmonds, they’re one of the last outfits that still represent the British blues boom that would eventually morph through groups like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, and any number of other ensembles that tapped into the rustic roots of American blues and subsequently reimagined it for their British brethren.
For the past 55 years, Simmonds has managed to maintain that trajectory despite an ever shifting line-up that’s seen nearly 60 musicians drift in and out of its ranks and some three dozen different line-ups come and go, leaving over 40 albums in their wake. Today’s band consists of a trio with Simmonds at the helm on vocals, guitar and harmonica aided and assisted by bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm.
The group’s upcoming album, Ain’t Done Yet, not only lives up to its name but also finds the band maintaining the momentum sustained over the course of the past decade, with some eight albums and a constant tour schedule in tandem. Simmonds. himself, a U.S. resident since 1980 who currently resides in upstate New York, remains as active as ever at age 72. Indeed, if the new album is any indication, he remains wholly committed to the cause and intent on taking Savoy Brown to even greater heights of acclaim and accomplishment.
Rock & Roll Globe recently had the opportunity to speak with Simmonds and got his thoughts about the new album and a continuing career that’s made him and his band one of the world’s most indelible guardians of the bastion of the blues.
Given your storied history, have you ever considered writing a book?
I was in the process of writing a book last year, but I got distracted. Every morning I write songs and I put chords together, and so any creative thoughts I have seem to go towards the songs instead of towards the book. It needs to be finished off. I’ve gotten some other ideas that I need to add to it, but it could go on forever. So at some point I’ve got to get back to it. But the reason that I prioritize the songs is that the music could slip away, so I have to write it down. At some point I’ll have to say that’s it. Yet now, with this all down time due to the pandemic, there’s no reason why I can’t take a couple of weeks and finish it off. I’ve got it pretty much done,
With the storied history that you have, would you consider yourself a nostalgic type of guy?
I don’t think I look back with a contented feeling. I mean, I do look back all the time. You think about things that you’ve missed, or things that went wrong, or the times you acted the fool. (chuckles) You think, I wish I had done that.
Give us an example.
It was the winter of ’65 when I first put the band together when John O’Leary, the harp player, came aboard. That’s when we put it together. Then he left. I always considered myself a really good guitar player, a bit precocious perhaps, but once I changed the band around, it went in a slightly different direction and my role changed. So I don’t know what kind of guitar player I would have been if the original band stayed as it was. I do think about that. I can listen to the first album now and think, it’s a pretty good album. But at the same time, it was an uncomfortable session for me. When I look back at some of the albums, I remember that some of the sessions were very uncomfortable. I write about it in the book. I look back and think, good grief, why did I do that? It’s like everything else. You might spend your whole life thinking that something was the wrong thing do. On the other hand, I can listen to an early album and think it might have contributed to the sound in a positive way. So why struggle with the past and being negative when in reality, it’s all in your mind anyway?
On the other hand, given all you’ve accomplished, you can take it all in with a great deal of pride.
Oh yes, it’s a great source of pride. I’m very happy with it all and I’m amazed as to what’s gone on, what with the history and the career and so on. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I thought I’d be doing this for the rest of my life. I just thought it would be for just a couple more years. Then at some point, I figured I might just as well carry on.
As a young man, you probably never dreamed it would go on this long.
Well, no. I was maybe 20 or 21, and I remember saying to (singer) Chris Youlden that maybe we have two years left. (laughs) When you’re a musician and self-employed, there are no guarantees. It’s not like you do the job and you get a pension at 65.
The new album, Ain’t Done Yet, certainly bears an appropriate title. You sound more dedicated to the cause and more committed than ever. The fire still burns.
Thank you so much. It’s in my DNA. The energy side of things. It’s just something you’re born with. I play every day. I write every day. I still enjoy that creative side of it. It’s great fun. I think I had the right role models. I was buying Buddy Guy records at 13 and I’m still buying Buddy Guy records and he’s in his 80s. The blues guys were very good role models because they don’t become nostalgia acts. They just continue to do what they do. So all I’m trying to do is continue in that same vein. I also keep a naivety about myself that I think helps to maintain that youthful enthusiasm.
Blues is an arena where age is still revered. It’s a lingering form where age seems to be respected.
I think so. I don’t think it happens automatically. Artists keep making hit records, they keep exploring. Those artists kept doing what they doing. They were influential. I’m disappointed by some of my contemporaries who kind of fell by the wayside. I want to be inspired by people who keep doing it. It’s a wonderful thing when you give your time and money and energy to an artist and they don’t let you down. They keep going. Buddy Guy is a classic example. It’s deeper than I realized. It’s much like when I saw the Beatles in the very beginning. What attracted me to them is what attracted me to the blues. It was their honesty, the basic instrumentation. When I look back, I can see what the appeal was to me.
It seems like you always have to be on point to maintain this trajectory you’ve borne forth for the last 55 years. Your last album, City Night, came out just last year, so it’s pretty obvious that you don’t sit back and rest on your laurels.
Right now, I’m already preparing the next one. I have like 36 songs or something. I write six s songs a week. Five of them are actually pretty good, so if I wanted to farm out songs, I probably could. It’s pretty hard, but that’s one reason why I start immediately. I paint a bit too, and most of the things I paint I put aside and I come back to three months later or six months ago, and I think, how did I do that? It becomes a matter of what palette did I use, what brush did I use, and so I have to go through this process of figuring out how I achieved that. You’re experimenting with different styles and approaches and what have you, and it’s the same thing with music.
You just seem like you’re incredibly disciplined. How many hours a day are you actually practicing your craft?
I start very early in the morning. Like everything else, if you get your work done in the morning then you have the rest of your day. Sometimes. it goes on throughout the day. It depends. If I’m excited and inspired and I’m on a roll, it continues. A few weeks ago, I had some health issues so I took a break. I do take breaks occasionally. But generally I spend two or three hours in the morning, and if it’s a day where there aren’t too many phone calls coming in or emails to take care of, then it could go right throughout the day off and on.
It seems like you could release quite an anthology, what with all the unreleased songs and the rarities that must still be in the vault. Have you ever thought about anything like that
Well, yeah I’ve kept some notes as I’ve moved along, but I’m a little more careless about life. I have live material, so I’ve thought about releasing some of that. There’s the idea of releasing a retrospective of my career, but I don’t know what would be involved with that. I would have to deal with the various record companies. With my demos, I send them off to a friend who catalogs them and keeps them. He puts them into iTunes. It’s pretty good to hear something two or three years later. If I croak tomorrow, he has all of it that can be released. It could go on through infinity. (laughs) I don’t think I’d want to be around for it because I don’t want to listen to my own demos. But it might be interesting for other people. They’re pretty complete, with bass and drums and so forth. I try to lay everything out so that I can hear how everything should sound.
Out of curiosity, are you in touch with any of the previous members of Savoy Brown who were involved with the band back in the day?
Oh yeah. Some people for sure from the original band. They’re still friends of mine and we keep in touch. When I was on tour in England in early January, John O’Leary came to the show and had some wonderful thing to say. It was very very nice. People go their own way in life, but there are people that I do keep in touch with.
Has there ever been any talk about a reunion or even a one-off project with some of the former members?
That’s come up sometimes. But now, with this renaissance I’m going through with the last three albums, some of the new material seems to have eclipsed the older material. So I think that had I not been pushing forward, a reunion might be in order. On the other hand, a reunion is what you do when you’re not moving forward. However because I’m moving at such a good rate, those kinds of ideas have sort of dissipated.
How long has the current band been together?
That’s quite impressive. It’s likely exceeded the length of the original outfit.
It’s exceeded the length of many of the bands. You always look for ways to enhance the situation, either in a practical way or in a musical way. It’s exciting for the audience and it’s a way to keep it growing.
Of course you remain the focal point of the band so I nevitably the spotlight still shines on you.
That does come with the territory. I think people can get nervous in that situation. It can get in the way in the sense that I’m playing, singing and boosting the band. We’re always talking about ways of doing this in the most stressless way to make it easier on all of us and make it work even better. I suppose everybody does that. That goes hand in hand with age and you have to act accordingly.
VIDEO: Savoy Brown Denver 1981